(CNSNews.com) – Two young ladies who are leaders in youth groups for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) grilled a radio executive about his lucrative hip hop music programming asking him: "[W]e just want to know would you rather play music that degrades us and dumbs our African American people down just to make money?"
At the NAN convention in Washington, D.C., a panel discussion was held entitled “Media Race” that was led by MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton, who founded NAN, and included Alfred C. Liggins III, the CEO of Radio One, the seventh largest radio network in the United States.
During his remarks, Liggins said, “I get a lot of heat for 93.9, WKYS, which plays a whole bunch of hip hop, some of it viewed as questionable, and in Houston in particular, recently, I got a lot of heat from the community because we took a gospel station off the air. We put an all-news station, general market all-news station on the air so I thought, and there was no all-news station. There was only right-wing news talk radio Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. I thought Houston deserved an all news station. But the community reared-up and used it as an opportunity to attack our hip-hop station and wanted me to change the music and play positive hip hop and things of that nature. …
"And I had to explain to them," said Liggins, "that there is a segment of the population that wants this music--your kids, your young adults that are in your family. That radio station by the way, the hip hop station, is the number one station in the market, and we make a lot of money with it.
"So, we have a responsibility as a media outlet to reflect all segments of the marketplace and what consumers want, not just what one segment perceives to be positive in nature and values," said Liggins. "And also by the same token as a media outlet I don't feel it is our responsibility to try to shape, you know, the minds and values of the people who partake in consumer outlets. That happens at home, that's what you do with your kids, that's what I do with my son. And I don't think any government, any media outlet, any third party organization should be saddled with that burden. It's we as parents that have to be saddled with that burden."
After all the panelists spoke, the floor was opened for questions and the two young ladies approached the microphone: Victoria Pannell, 12, of New York City, who is the Northeast regional director of NAN’s Youth Movement, and Nialah Edari, 17, of Milwaukee, Wisc., who is the Midwest youth director for NAN.
Edari said, “Our question is directed toward Mr. Alfred [Liggins]. You said that your radio station plays rap music because it makes money, but drug dealers sell drugs. Does that necessarily make it right?”
Applause and hollering broke out in the audience, and then Pannell said, “And rap music creates negative stereotypes in our communities, so we just want to know would you rather play music that degrades us and dumbs our African American people down just to make money?”
That question also sparked loud cheering and applause.
Liggins said, “My answer--the reason we play rap music is, you know, we go after audiences. We try to get the largest possible audience out there as we can and rap music. I have to be honest with you, rap music has been a phenomenon in the African American community that’s created many, many, many economic opportunities.”
“If we don’t highlight that artistry, somebody else will do it, and the audience wants it," Liggins said. "People want to listen to it.”
We don’t control the artistry from that perspective,” he said. “And I don’t ultimately look at that as being tantamount to being a drug dealer. I understand. You made a very powerful point and it’s a very controversial issue, but you know, if we don’t reflect the culture coming out of our communities we’re not doing our job as a media outlet.”
Pannell got the last word, however, saying, “I respectfully disagree.”
The panel discussion, which included NBC “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory, Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, among other media personalities, wrapped up with Sharpton weighing in on the give and take between the media mogul and the girls.
“Stay tuned Sunday, ‘Meet the Press,’ headline: 12-year-old knocks out Alfred Liggins,” Sharpton said.
Michael W. Chapman contributed to this report.